By the Places We Go team
There is something immensely magnetising about holidays by the water. Whether it be the coast, a lake, or a river, many of us travel each year to spend our days getting wet – in the most fun of ways.
The Gippsland Lakes and the town of Lakes Entrance in Victoria’s East Gippsland region are perfect for a holiday by the water.
The largest network of inland waterways in Australia, the Gippsland Lakes are made up of four lakes: Victoria, King, Wellington, and Reeve and are more than 400sq km in size, fed by the Mitchell, Tambo, and Nicholson rivers. They meet the open ocean of Bass Strait at the town of Lakes Entrance, so visitors have direct access to both the lakes and spectacular Ninety Mile Beach.
This is a region where you can swim, fish, boat, sail, canoe, kayak, surf, paddleboard, and more on the endless waterways. The pristine wilderness and charming waterside towns that surround it are just as exciting.
It is also a region that keeps you coming back and, on this visit, we were keen to try a few new things. We began with a walk over the Cunningham Arm of the lake via the famous Lakes Entrance footbridge, which takes you straight to the beach.
From the main Esplanade in town, you can literally grab an ice-cream and walk over the bridge to the beach where you are instantly ankle deep in pristine sand with the turquoise ocean in front of you.
In the summer holidays, this precinct is buzzing. Camel rides, carnivals, paddleboats, and more entertain the whole family. But the simple pleasures of just walking on the beach, letting the kids run to their heart’s content, and gazing at the seemingly endless stretch of sand is enough.
Of course, with so much water comes a bounty of seafood, and Lakes Entrance is one of the busiest ports in Australia for fishing trawlers.
We turned up to the Lakes Entrance Fisherman’s Coop fish shop, Off the Wharf, for a taste of what had been caught that day. At Off the Wharf, you can literally walk around the back of the shop to the dock where the daily catch is unloaded, sorted, weighed, and iced in front of you. We headed into the shop to stock up on prawns that we could take back to BIG4 Whiters Holiday Village for dinner.
Happy holidaymakers at the park had similar ideas. Fresh fish was being cooked by fellow guests on the communal barbecues, and kids played blissfully in the pools, on the playground, in the games room, and on the pedal karts.
We enjoyed our prawns on the verandah of our family villa, soaking up the sounds of the holiday park and peaceful beachside town around us, and even the ocean that was only a few minutes’ walk away.
There are so many ways to explore the lakes, and every option shows a new and unique side to this beautiful environment.
One of the most peaceful ways to enjoy the water under your own steam is on a stand-up paddleboard, and Sarah from Venture Out tours made it super easy. We joined her for a relaxing paddle on the north arm of the lake to The Entrance where they often spot dolphins.
We kept our eyes peeled as we glided along the water on sturdy, inflatable boards. Sarah likened it to ‘the closest thing to walking on water’ and she was right. It was a beautiful way to see the water and its surroundings from this angle and we couldn’t have ended our adventure in a more perfect way than some (attempted) yoga on the paddleboards at the end!
Metung is one of the charming villages on the Gippsland Lakes. The well-known pub sits directly on the water, pelicans relax on the jetty pilings, and the township is quaint and full of chic cafés, galleries, and boutiques. It is a beautiful place to spend some time and enjoy lunch, dinner, or coffee as well as the views.
We met Sascha and Cam from Riviera Nautic where one of their spectacular yachts was moored along the banks of the lake on the way into Metung.
Like so many others, Sascha and Cam had been lured from the city by the beauty of the Gippsland Lakes and had set up their yacht and motor cruiser charter business in Metung, responding to the demand from visitors wanting to experience the lakes.
Guests can charter a yacht, cruiser, kayak, day boat, or speed boat for a day or a week and no experience or licences are necessary. The Gippsland Lakes offer calm and sheltered conditions to sail, with an area 10 times the size of Sydney Harbour to discover.
We jumped on board and, before we knew it, Cam and Sascha had us sailing the yacht on the wide-open water, surrounded by a pristine environment. We were heading for Barrier Landing where the lakes meet Bass Strait and hoping to spot some of the rare Burrunan dolphins that permanently reside in the lakes.
This is also a birdwatcher’s paradise, covered by the international RAMSAR convention for the protection of internationally significant wetlands.
It was easy to settle into life on the water, and without having to deal with tides, swell, or other conditions it was a relaxing journey. We could easily imagine spending more than a few days on board, filling our time fishing, swimming, and exploring the corners and coves of the lakes that held so much beauty.
We moored on Barrier Landing where we enjoyed a picnic on Ninety Mile Beach and soaked up the endless views. It was truly a serene day.
The Gippsland Lakes are also home to another kind of population: resident koalas are thriving on Raymond Island, which is just a short (and free) ferry ride of around 200m from the lakeside town of Paynesville, about an hour’s drive from Lakes Entrance.
In 1953, 16 male and 26 female koalas were relocated from Phillip Island to Raymond Island to try and replenish their dwindling numbers. The experiment worked, with the population growing ever since. As soon as you step foot off the ferry, you can start spotting these cute creatures in the gumtrees around you where the 1.2km ‘koala trail’ begins.
A small island, roughly 6km x 2km with a population of about 540 who rely on Paynesville for shops and services, idyllic Raymond Island is easily navigated. One of the best ways to get around is via a surrey bike from Ride the Koalas.
We met Vicky who started the bike-hire business with her husband Victor after they moved to Raymond Island in 2013 following annual visits for 15 years. It was the ideal way to travel the koala trail around the island, especially with kids, and we all jumped on board and started pedalling.
The only thing to remember here is to keep one eye on the path you are pedalling and one eye up in the trees. It is easy to spot the koalas, and just as easy to be distracted by them! Our journey was full of cries of ‘There’s one! There’s another one’, and we were charmed by the sleepy marsupials that didn’t seem to mind us pointing our cameras at them as they relaxed in the gum trees.
Not only is it a thrill to spot the native wildlife – which also includes kangaroos, kookaburras, echidnas and all kinds of birdlife – but the views across the lakes from the end where we chose to sit down and have our picnic lunch were the perfect accompaniment to the day.
Have you visited this pocket of Victoria? Book your next BIG4 escape now.